Friday, August 28, 2020

The Old Hunter


They had crossed into Belgium three kilometers east of the French border town of Ohain. The squad had made very good time, the lieutenant figured there were two reasons for that, the men knew they were getting closer to their destination and the American rations they had captured had boosted both their stamina and their morale.

The skies had been clear, allowing them to benefit from what little starlight there was. It wasn't totally dark so they made use of the farm fields in the area to travel faster. The lieutenant began to look for a good spot to reenter the woods, they might be able to make another ten kilometers under the cover of the woods, the pre-dawn light would help them. So von Lüttwitz hoped.

Military traffic was non-existent, though they were avoiding the roads as much as possible due to the incident with the Americans the previous day. The lieutenant assumed that most military traffic would be on the main highways to Brussels and Antwerp. Although the German Army had pushed through the Ardennes in 1940, that had been something of an anomaly, the French manned it lightly, expecting a replay of the opening moves of 1914. They had been sorely surprised.

So he discounted the Ardennes as an area of heavy military concentration. He expected outposts and a thinly manned and lightly patrolled line. He was assuming a great deal, but that was really their only hope. Further north in Belgium and into the Netherlands the fighting would be heavy. It was, after all, a quicker way to get over the Rhine than to try and  fight through the forests of the Ardennes and the Schnee Eifel.

The open fields and rolling terrain of Wallonia

As the sun was beginning to rise in the east, the lieutenant checked his map, they had to be close to the Belgian town of Viroinval, which means they had put nearly sixty kilometers behind them. It also meant that they might be able to reach Rochefort the next night, that was his target. Once they reached that town, and if they had not struck the German lines, he would determine what to do next. They were within 100 kilometers straight line distance of the Reich. No doubt further on foot, but they were tantalizingly close.

Unteroffizier Schumacher spotted it first, "Herr Leutnant, perhaps a good place to get out of the open," he was gesturing to his left. Sure enough, there was a small dirt track leading into some rather thick woods. It would be perfect.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz, pointed the way and signaled the men to remain in skirmish order. He was taking no chances.

On the far right of the line, Grenadier Hans Pfeiffer was scanning his sector, he paused, he thought he saw someone. At that moment he felt something tug at his right trouser leg, then he heard the crack of a rifle, damn it! He had been shot. He went down as his leg gave out from under him.


Henri Desjardins lowered his old hunting rifle and fumbled in his jacket pocket for another bullet. Though he was very spry for a 75 year old man, his eyesight wasn't as good as it used to be. In the morning light he saw something low and gray moving towards the forest. It had to be a boar or a deer. At any rate, it was food on the table. So he fired. Why would people be out here at this time of the day?

He began to move towards where he'd seen the animal go down, he heard no noises so he assumed that he had killed it with his first shot. He stepped carefully, truth be told, his eyes were not as strong as they once were, the ground here was uneven and in the early morning light he couldn't see where he was stepping.

When he got to the spot where he expected to find his kill, he was startled when his "kill" leapt at him.

Pfeiffer was in a lot of pain, he had tied off his leg at the thigh with a makeshift tourniquet by using the strap from his bread bag and the cleaning rod from his K98k. He wondered who had shot him and why. He also wondered what the Hell he was going to do now, there was no way he could travel on one leg, he needed medical attention, soon.

As he waited, he heard someone approaching through the high grass. It was a man, and he sounded old. He also seemed to be muttering in French. Damn it, Pfeiffer thought, to come all the way from Normandy and get shot by the Maquis in Belgium. He drew his fighting knife.

As the man stepped to where he could see Pfeiffer, his eyes grew very big as he spotted the man he'd shot, he tried to bring his old hunting rifle to bear, but Pfeiffer was faster. His knife slid into the old man's chest between two ribs and into his heart. The old man seemed to sigh as he went limp, dropping his rifle and falling across the downed German soldier.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz and the rest of the squad had immediately gone to ground upon hearing the shot, "Verdammte Scheiße!" the lieutenant had thought, "What now?" He maneuvered, as he knew his men would, to reorient the skirmish line towards the direction of the shot. The direction of the threat.

Grenadier Manfred Sauer had been closest to Pfeiffer when the shot rang out. Crawling to his right, he attempted to get to where he could see Pfeiffer and perhaps see the one who had fired the shot. He heard someone, had to be a man, a very clumsy man, coming through the grass, which puzzled him, who would fire a shot at them and then rush right in?


When he heard a short scuffle, a gasp and then someone swearing in German, he realized Pfeiffer must have dispatched the threat. Cautiously he moved towards Pfeiffer. When he got there, he saw a lot of blood on and around Pfeiffer, most of it was probably from the dead man Pfeiffer was trying to push off of him.

"Good Lord man, what the Hell are you playing at?" Sauer helped Pfeiffer get the dead man off, he noticed that it was an old guy, he also saw the ancient hunting rifle. Then he noticed the tourniquet on Pfeiffer's leg. Not all of the blood had been from the dead hunter.

"I'm hit Manfred, pretty bad. This old bastard probably thought I was a deer or something. He's probably dead blind.² Damn it, that hurts, stupid Belgian bastard." He snarled as he struck the corpse.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz assessed the situation, there was no way that Grenadier Pfeiffer was going any further. They had to be into the trees and soon, no doubt the old Belgian would be missed and someone would come looking for him. As he looked around, Pfeiffer spoke up.

"You have to leave me Herr Leutnant. There is no way I can travel. Here, take my ammunition, the rifle too. I have no more need of it. You must go!" Pfeiffer nearly shoved his rifle at the lieutenant. Sauer was helping him out of his gear, taking everything but his bread bag.

Leutnant von Lüttwitz looked at Pfeiffer for a long moment, he noticed that the rest of the squad had already disappeared into the edge of the wood. Only Sauer waited with him. Pfeiffer mouthed, "GO" and then pointed at the forest.

The lieutenant gripped Pfeiffer by the shoulder and squeezed. He and Pfeiffer were all that was left of the old 1st Platoon. They'd left 27 men in Russia, had received replacements, then lost all but the two of them on the beaches of Normandy, through Falaise, and the long agony of the retreat across the Seine.

"Bis nächstes Mal, Herr Leutnant³. It was an honor serving with you." They shook hands and the lieutenant was gone. Only Sauer lingered.

"You're a good man Hans, I hope the Americans capture you and not the Belgians."

"Ja, me too. I doubt the Belgians will be happy finding me with a dead Belgian."


With that last "bye" Sauer was gone, Pfeiffer was alone.

So close to home, yet so far.

¹ Yes, I know the machine gun is an MG 34 and not an MG 42, there are only so many usable pictures on the Internet. Plus, I really liked the photo.
² In German, "stockblind," the equivalent of "blind as a bat."
³ See you next time.


  1. Question: In the episode, The Road Home, 2nd para; shouldn't it be the men noticed the still smoldering farmhouse FROM the north? Or did they double back a few clicks to throw the trail from their imagined pursuers?

    Also, in rereading the last several episodes (having not yet read this current episode) I realize these men really are in high gear - 40 miles per 24 hours. No wonder they're famished!

    Why I went back to reread was I thought, You cheater, they've covered ~100 miles (Tilloloy - Ohain) in two episodes. Sure, that is quite doable but in their condition? Further, I had thought this was a spurt but now I see it is a sustained march. Entschuldigen sie.

    1. If they had gone north they would have had to go through a village, to the south there were open fields and woodlots.

      Also the distances are in kilometers, not miles, it's roughly 120 km from Tilloloy to Ohain on foot, depending which route you take. When I use Google Maps to study an area, I also use the "Directions" feature to plot a path, on foot, not by road. Remember as well, these guys are infantry, they know how to travel.

  2. Hmmmm..... in that first photo, the soldier with the MG, dead ringer for my UPS guy. Huh, so close Hans.

  3. I am confused. Are there two Ohain? I see an Ohain SW of Brussels.

  4. Wow, another surprising ending. Your book will be a best seller.

  5. I've read about a military group of made up of hunters the Germans fielded. They were quite dangerous.

    1. Traditionally European armies liked to field units of what I guess you'd call "outdoorsy types." Gamekeepers, hunters, poachers and the like. They made for some very effective light infantry. They were known variously as Jäger, cazadores, caçadores, chasseurs, and cacciatori, dependent on which country was fielding them. In English they were simply known as light infantry.

    2. Paweł here. Ironically enough, mamy of those units were influenced by US riflemen of revolutionary war .

    3. The Brits, during WWI and WWII, fielded some units made of Scotish Gamekeepers. And it is one of the origins of the Ghillie suits.

      And the use of rifles in America pre-revolutionary war was influenced by German Jaeger-rifles, which were shorter barreled and larger caliber than the American long-rifle progressed into. Though the German jaeger-rifles were designed for boar and large deer, the Ami long-rifle was designed as a general-purpose caliber weapon good from bird to beast, plus more economical as it used less powder and shot by weight.

      And British rifle units during the Revolutionary War were inspired by American long-rifle use during the French and Indian War.

      Round and round, the cycle goes, round and round.

    4. And Brits came back to marksmanship roots after Boer Wars bitter experience...

    5. At Mons in 1914 the Germans were very impressed with the standard of British marksmanship. They had the casualty lists to show for it!

  6. I am finding it is becoming one of those "After the War, what did the do" sorts of things.

  7. Another well done installment. Thanks for including us on your writing journey -'most enjoyable!

    Prayers out for those in LA and SE TX and AR affected by Laura. Saw a post showing a line of approximately 100 cars and trucks from various law enforcement and other first responders headed to those areas to help out. They should be defunded if they have that kind of free time! /sarc

    1. Looks like 2020 is not done yet. Also our band of german Odisseus is running out of luck

    2. A pretty long year so far, still has a while to run.

      Oh joy.

      Good comparison by the way, not enough of them to be Xenophon and the 10,000!

    3. Herr Xeno und die zehn.

      After all, legends are always BIG and reality always small...

  8. Wish I had more bigger and better words to describe how much I'm enjoying your storytelling Sarge. The hard work shines through in each of these installments. Thanks as always!

  9. Had me there at the end, thought you'd have Sauer finish Pfeiffer, but, no, you let his humanity leak out again. I am really liking who Sauer is fleshing out to be. A very deep and complicated man.

    What's next? He survives the war and writes a memoir of his travels and becomes a best-seller? "Oh, well, in the area of Ohaun in Belgium, the ground feels XYZ and the very air seems to be full of life. Good place to run pigs. Whereas near Ohaun in France, the ground feels dead, and is only good for raising crops...."

    As others said, excellent job.

    And, that dead Belgium must have done a wicked job of hiding his rifle from the Germans early on in the war. But, well, our Germans should have been wearing orange vests and hats, or would that have been more appropriate in the Netherlands?

    1. In the smaller villages, away from the main roads, the Germans were less thorough. As long as the people behaved, they didn't look that closely.

  10. The farmer forgot the 2nd law of the hunt "ALWAYS reload before moving". The critter may not be dead.

    1. Ah but he did, he just wasn't ready to shoot, thinking his prey already dead.

  11. Another great installment Sarge!
    Gotta say I briefly had the thought of Sauer doing a "fangschuss" too - very glad that was not the case. Pfeiffer's still in a bad way, helluva thing to happen to him. I find myself hoping he is found by someone capable and willing of truly rendering aid.
    Boat Guy

    1. I think you've misjudged Sauer, he's a good comrade. Pfeiffer is in a bad way, not sure if we'll find out what happens to him, war is like that.

  12. More like misjudged you, Sarge. You're the one calling the shots.
    I was also thinking that someone taking care of Pfeiffer is probably not the way to bet.
    Hell, I'd be grateful to have Sauer in my squad. He is indeed a good comrade.
    Boat Guy

  13. Admirable research to get the details right. That's important. But not worth a damn if there is not a great plot to carry the details forward. You do both. I look forward to more.
    John Blackshoe

    1. I try to make it as accurate as possible. Sometimes it takes a bit of doing!

      The story though is the most important bit. If it isn't interesting, who cares if the details are spot on?

    2. I have to say Sarge I am learning a lot and reading your installments.

      Thought I was reasonably knowledgeable in World War II history but...

      Knew nothing of the Falaise Gap.

      Was that part of Bradley’s Plan?

      Then - well - my German was never fluent I had always heard the phrase

      “bis zum nachsten Mal” and thought you were missing a word.

      Turns out both are correct.

      And low and behold you are making Sauer almost human ;-)

      A thought came to me from an experience I had while stationed at Landstuhl.

      In the little local movie theater a popular movie was-get this-“the enemy below“ with Robert Mitchum and Kurt Jurgens

      Why did the Germans like this movie?

      It portrayed Kurt Jurgens and his submarine crew as honorable sailors just serving their country

      I have learned through an expensive mistake that creation and marketing are two completely separate entities.

      But Should you put this into book form and the Germans hear about it, I would think you would have some decent sales from them

      Because what I have discerned through all of this is that this little squad of Germans who are the remnants are at their hearts, honorable soldiers

    3. I should post the link where I get my idioms from, there's more than one website and all of them are interesting. In German, as in many language, there's more than one way to say something. Often written German is much harder to follow (for me anyway) than spoken German.

  14. As an addendum I wonder how many veterans of the Eastern front were at Normandie? Talk about battle hardened soldiers...

    1. A lot were Ostfront veterans. Many of them had been wounded and deemed unfit for service in the East so were put in the so-called static divisions. Of course, nearly all of the SS divisions had served extensively in Russia and would return there.


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